Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen, Ian Charleson
His Triumph Changed The World Forever.
Sir Richard Attenborough's 1982 multiple-Oscar winner (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley) is an engrossing, reverential look at the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who introduced the doctrine of nonviolent resistance to the colonized people of India and who ultimately gained the nation its independence. Kingsley is magnificent as Gandhi as he changes over the course of the three-hour film from an insignificant lawyer to an international leader and symbol.
$131.153 thousand on 4 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Runtime: 191 min.
Release Date: 8/28/2001
• “Ben Kingsley Talks About Gandhi” Featurette
• Original Newsreel Footage
• “The Making of Gandhi” Photo Montage
• “The Words of Mahatma Gandhi”
• Production Notes
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 7, 2007)
Regular readers may recall my rants about Oscar injustices, and one of these remains the worst in my mind. Back in 1982, I absolutely adored ET the Extra-Terrestrial. Although I feel less strongly about it today, it reigned as my all-time favorite film for a number of years, and it still maintains a special place for me.
As such, its failure to snag the Best Picture award at the Oscars absolutely galled me. In a fit of 15-year-old pique, I even threw my balled-up sock at the TV screen. This outrage wasn’t based on ignorance, by the way. For the first time ever, I saw all five of the Best Picture nominees prior to the awards, so I didn’t develop a knee-jerk reaction against Gandhi simply due to the competition between it and ET.
Actually, I’d thought Gandhi was a fairly decent film when I saw it theatrically in the winter of 1982. Nonetheless, not for a second did I feel it merited such high endorsement from the Academy, especially not compared to the delights of ET.
Not surprisingly, Gandhi tells the story of Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, here portrayed by Ben Kingsley. While basically biographical in nature, the movie doesn’t follow a standard line. After a quick glimpse of Gandhi’s demise and funeral, we go back to 1893, at which time Gandhi was 24 years old and a young lawyer. The film skips about after that. It stays on a chronological route, but it doesn’t attempt to proceed along a complete path.
Instead, the movie focuses on Gandhi’s civil rights campaign, as he works to remove the British domination of India and allow the inhabitants the right to determine their own destinies. No matter how hard the authorities try to quiet Gandhi and his followers, he remains set on his course and will not deviate from it one iota.
At its heart, Gandhi tells an excellent story, especially for those of us born long after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. It’s fascinating and enlightening to watch the power of one man and his determination, and the case can be made for Gandhi as one of the century’s most powerful and influential figures.
Unfortunately, as directed by Richard Attenborough, Gandhi is little more than a dry and slow-paced sequence of the Mahatma’s greatest hits. I won’t fault the film for its length, as even at 190 minutes, it still seems too short to contain the full tale of the man. However, the flick takes such a pompous and distanced attitude toward the material that it never delivers much of the power behind the man and his work.
As I watched Gandhi, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between it and David Lean’s 1962 classic, Lawrence of Arabia. The films bear many similarities, from their epic scopes to the basic storylines that look at men who tried to influence the destinies of nations. Both also begin with the main character’s death, though they quickly launch back toward earlier material and work forward chronologically from there. Gandhi continues until we see the opening sequence repeated, while Lawrence ends with the main character’s spiritual death but doesn’t progress toward his physical demise. Gandhi attempts to cover a lot more chronological territory than Lawrence. The former goes over 55 years, while the latter stays in a fairly concentrated frame.
Despite the differences, the similarities are more than enough to seem less than coincidental. While it appears likely that Attenborough borrowed some superficial tones from Lean, he failed to capitalize on his predecessor’s liveliness. Gandhi virtually defines the notion of the noble but bland epic. The film progresses on such a deliberate and plodding pace that it quickly becomes tiresome and flat, two attributes that should not have been associated with Gandhi’s story.
Much of the problem stems from the lack of nuance and shading seen during the film. Everything’s told in degrees of black and white. Almost no negative sides are attached to Gandhi himself, and even his followers have very few overt flaws. When we do see mistakes on their part, they exist mainly to point out Gandhi’s perfection. On the other hand, the British oppressors never emerge as anything other than baddies. Almost to a man, they’re violent, nasty and small-minded.
As such, Gandhi becomes an extremely one-sided battle between good and evil. That’s fine for fantasy stories, but when the tale is taken from real life, the lack of distinction feels very unsatisfying. Part of the beauty of Lawrence is that it presents its hero as such a flawed and believable person. He was no deity and he had as many missteps as he did triumphs.
In Gandhi, however, we see virtually no faults, and there’s also weak character development. Other than the title role, all of the others get very little exposition. Even the parts that continue through the film usually feel like little more than walk-on cameos. Gandhi himself barely changes through the movie. Early in the piece, he suffers from discrimination while on a train, and that one event apparently sets the rest of his life in place. From that moment on, he follows the same path and never shows signs of doubt, fear, or any other realistic attitudes. Truly, he does become a god in the eyes of the filmmakers.
Clearly a lot more depth could have been developed. Toward the end of the film, we learn that Gandhi and his wife haven’t been intimate in years, and truth be told, he seems to be a pretty crummy husband. However, all of these tones are gathered through inference. When the movie even remotely casts aspersions on Gandhi’s character - he potentially could seem cold, distant, or smug at times - they’re shown in such a way to make the other characters look bad. When his wife rebels against some of his single-minded demands, she’s the one who comes off poorly, not him.
To be certain, Gandhi was a great man. I won’t argue against that notion for a second, and the movie is able to convey the positivity of his message and his goals. However, I think it needs greater balance. Kingsley won an Oscar for his work here, and while he does a nice impersonation of the Mahatma, I feel his portrayal ultimately fails because he also can’t convey the depth of the character. Even with a script that deified Gandhi, Kingsley could have allowed greater nuance and personality to emerge. Instead, he becomes a 20th century Jesus, except many movies show Jesus as a more three-dimensional and realistic figure.
Attenborough’s drab direction doesn’t help matters. As I noted in my review of Lawrence, that was the first older movie I ever saw that really lit a fire under me. I thought of “classics” as being stodgy and tame, but Lean displayed marvelous flair and life throughout that brilliant piece. Attenborough does exactly the opposite in Gandhi. It’s a bland and conservative piece that never once portrays its subject with vivacity or spark.
Instead, it hopes that the grandness of its subject and the grandeur of its sets and thousands of participants will be enough. They’re not. Gandhi comes across as less than the sum of its parts. We see scads of different characters and situations, but they all blend into one. There’s another jail term, here’s another hunger strike. As a person, Gandhi deserves the highest of accolades and praise. As a film, Gandhi is a pompous, overbearing and dull piece that rarely does its subject justice.
Trivia time: yes, that was Daniel Day-Lewis you saw. Hmm… perhaps my animosity toward Gandhi results from his character; he plays a racist street thug named Colin. And yes, you also witnessed Cheers’ John Ratzenberger in a very small role. However, you didn’t hear his voice, as someone else clearly dubbed his lines, a move that now seems unintentionally amusing.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C
Gandhi appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While a few concerns appeared, as a whole the film provided a good visual experience.
Sharpness usually appeared crisp and accurate throughout the film. At no time did I distinguish any significant signs of softness, as the movie remained detailed and distinct most of the time. A couple of slightly iffy shots popped up, but they created no real issues. I did see some light moiré effects, and mild edge enhancement crept in as well.
Print flaws also offered a minor concern. At points during Gandhi, I saw signs of grit, speckles, and a few small hairs. However, these never appeared to be substantial, and they cleared up to a degree as the movie progressed.
Colors came across as natural and vivid, and they displayed some lovely and warm tones. I saw no signs of bleeding or noise as the hues appeared vibrant and clean. Black levels also seemed to be deep and rich, and shadow detail was clean without any excessive opacity. The source flaws were the main distraction, and they knocked down my grade to a still satisfactory “B”.
Also good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Gandhi, especially in regard to its soundfield. Though the mix accentuated the forward channels, it spread the sound cleanly and distinctly across that spectrum. Both effects and music developed neatly and covered the forward speakers well. At times, the elements seemed to be too “speaker-specific”, and they didn’t blend together terribly well. However, the overall impression of the forward soundfield seemed to be very strong for its era, and the mix added a lot of life to the proceedings.
Surround usage was adequate but more subdued. For the most part, the rear channels worked to reinforce audio heard from the front. They bolstered the music and effects, and occasionally became more active. For example, some train scenes added a nice level of involvement. As a whole, the surrounds were definitely junior partners, but they functioned well for the period.
Gandhi lost some points due to the quality of the audio, which seemed to be a little drab. Dialogue always remained intelligible and it lacked edginess, but the lines sounded muted and flat for the most part. The same qualities affected the soundtrack as a whole, as the entire package lacked much depth or range. At times, some decent bass emerged, such as when a parade loaded a nice rumble. However, most of the film came across as somewhat sterile and thin. Music and effects were reasonably accurate, but they felt distant. I also detected some distortion from gunshots and a few louder sounds. Overall, the soundtrack of Gandhi was good for its age, but the lack of power heard in the mix made it a little disappointing.
Gandhi includes a few supplements, but it also seems somewhat dissatisfying. First we get a piece called Ben Kingsley Talks About Gandhi. During this 19-minute and 20-second piece, we indeed hear the actor as he recalls his experiences on the film. As a whole, he added some decent tidbits, but frankly, he came across as rather full of himself, and this attitude slightly marred the discussion.
I also thought the program included far too many clips from the film, as these detracted from the issues at hand. Ultimately, this was a reasonably interesting interview at times, but it didn’t bring a great deal to the table. By the way, this interview seems to have been sitting around for a while, for in it, Kingsley refers to John Gielgud as one of the living; he passed away 15 months prior to the release of the DVD.
More compelling were the four bits of Original Newsreel Footage. These offered exactly what they claimed, as we found film pieces that ranged from 50 seconds to four minutes, 20 seconds in length; all in all, the DVD featured nine minutes, 55 seconds of material. These were uniformly interesting, but the last was easily the best of the bunch. Titled “Gandhi Speaks: First Talking Picture Ever Made by India’s Famous Leader”, it provided a short interview with Gandhi while on a hunger strike, and it seemed to be the most revealing and compelling of the lot.
The Words of Mahatma Gandhi displayed exactly what it implied. In this 115-second piece, we saw filmed text that showed a number of his quotes. While the material itself was mildly interesting, the presentation seemed odd. The material could have fit into part of the booklet, which would have been more efficient than having to wade through the video display. Even still frames would have been more useful.
Speaking of which, the Photo Montage worked along the same lines as it avoided the normal still frame presentation. Instead, we found a five-minute, 25-second running program that showed a mix of images. Most of them simply represented shots from the movie, but there were also some publicity shots and a few glimpses from the set. Formally titled “The Making of Gandhi”, the set never reached a depth implied by that name, and ultimately I thought these were fairly dull.
Lastly, we got the film’s theatrical trailer plus a set of Filmographies. These included “selected” listings for director Richard Attenborough, writer John Briley, and actors Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox and John Mills. Some brief but decent production notes fill out the DVD’s booklet as well. For those with DVD-ROM drives, a weblink has been provided to a Gandhi-oriented site.
As a movie, Gandhi falls well short of its goals. It glorifies the life of a great man to an unrealistic degree, and it comes across as a dull, stodgy hagiography. The DVD offers good picture and sound, however, and it packs in a few decent extras. A more full special edition would have been nice, but the DVD itself still works pretty well. Unfortunately, the movie’s something of a well-intentioned dud, so I can’t recommend it to anyone other than folks who want to see all of the Best Picture winners.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1711 Stars|| Number of Votes: 111|